Psalms - Chapter 14
(The following material is compiled predominantly from an anthology of Orthodox Jewish commentary, written and arranged by Rabbi Avroham Chaim Feuer from the Artscroll Tanach Series Tehillim Volume 1. Additional insights from a Nazarene Israelite perspective have been added by Jason Jordan. Additional Tehillim translation by Rabbi Hillel Danziger)
When Elohim desired to create man, Truth said: "He should not be created, for he is full of lies." Kindness said: "He should be created, for he is full of kindness."– Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:5
Psalms 14 and 53 are connected, because they are dedicated to the same topic - The destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) - The first Temple in this Psalm and the second Temple in Psalms 53 (Rashi). The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzer and the second Temple by the Roman Emperor, Titus.
In this Psalm David prophesies that Nebuchadnezzar will enter the Sanctuary to defile and destroy it, and no one will protest or restrain him.
The Sage Malbim notes that this psalm is an example of the multidimensional aspect of David’s compositions. David created this Psalm primarily in response to the enemies of his day, but later generations of Israelites would also find personal meaning on a national and historical scale.
Malbim interprets the prophetic aspect of this Psalm not as reference to Nebuchadnezzar, but Sancherib of Assyria and his siege against King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) of Judea.
Verse 1; “For the Conductor; of David. The degraded man says in his heart, ‘There is no Elohim!’ They acted corruptly and despicably, not one does good.”
The Sage Ibn Ezra describes this man as the opposite of a wise person because he is degraded and foolish enough to think that there is no (Supreme Creator).
The Sage Hirsch translates the word “degraded” as “to wither” or to “wear out.” Like Yisro’s (Jethro) warning to Moshe, “You shall certainly be worn out” (Exodus 18:18).
A withered leaf has neither life nor potential for growth. “In the morning, as Yahshua was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs on it, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ And immediately the fig tree withered up. The talmidim were amazed when they saw this and asked, ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ Then Yahshua told them, ‘I assure you, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May Elohim lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and it will happen. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:18-22). The degraded man, symbolised by a withered leaf, is at the mercy of outside forces and winds which blow it as they wish. So, too, has all moral strength disappeared from the heart of the degraded man. He has totally succumbed to the influence of the external lusts and passions; therefore, his own personal power to master and control urges and desires has withered. It was the ability to choose for himself which made him similar to the image of Elohim; but since the divine spark has faded away, he says in his once-inspired heart, “There is no Elohim.” John 10:34-36; “Yahshua answered them, 'Is it not written in your Torah, 'I have said you are Elohim'? If he called them 'Elohim,' to whom the word of Elohim came--and the Scripture cannot be broken what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am Elohim’s Son'? Every man has the potential to reach perfection and eventually achieve the status of Elohim. Yahshua points this potential out to his critics. Psalms 82:6; “I said, "You are Elohim, And all of you are sons of the Most High.”
Midrash Shocker Tov states, “The wicked are controlled by their hearts,” [The wicked have no control over the passions which rule them, whereas the righteous dominate their passions with a firm hand].
Harav Eliyahu Meir Bloch observed that the most eloquent proof of the true existence of Elohim is the very fact that the wicked man must constantly soothe his conscience by declaring, ‘there is no Elohim!’
Verse 2; “From heaven YHWH gazed down upon mankind, to see if there be one who reflects; one who seeks out Elohim.”
“…gazed down…” Although YHWH dwells high above the earth, He looks down to probe mankind [particularly Babylon] (Radak).
“…one who reflects…” Who understands enough to protest against the evil of destruction (Metzudat David).
“…one who seeks out Elohim.” Someone who seeks YHWH in His role as supreme judge (Radak; Metzudat David).
Verse 3; “They have all gone astray, together become depraved, none does good, not even one.”
Genesis 6:5; “Then YHWH saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
“They have all gone astray…” All King David’s soldiers have turned their faces away and gone onto the wrong path without protest. They have retreated from truth. Isaiah 53:6; We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
“…together become depraved…” They have become “abominable and rotten” (Job 15:16)
“…none does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10-18; “….as it is written, ‘there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks Elohim; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of Elohim before their eyes.”
Verse 4; “Do they not realise, all those evildoers? - They who devour my people as they would devour bread, they who call not upon YHWH.”
Do these evil doers not realise that there is indeed an Elohim who gazes down upon mankind? How can they lack the wisdom to recognise the truth? How can these evil doers think that no one sees them? (Radak)
Ultimately all evil doers will find out what happens to their kind (Rashi).
Radak explains that the enemies of Israel are so self-confident and self-righteous in their merciless devouring of Israel because they do not see the calamity that will eventually befall them.
Rabbi Samuel interprets this verse as referring to the gentile hoards who poured into the Temple at the time of its destruction. When they entered the Sanctuary they found lambs ready for the daily sacrifice and they slaughtered and ate them. Then they found the show bread arranged on the golden table and they ate that too (Midrash Shocher Tov).
As Israel’s enemies devoured them, they never dreamt that YHWH was watching so they never called out to Him. They imagined that there is no judgement and so they were never even frightened into repentance (Radak).
Verse 5; “There they will be stricken with terror, for Elohim is with the righteous generation.”
When Nebuchadnezzer had taken the holy vessels out of the Beit HaMikdash before he destroyed it, not even he dared use them for anything profane. However, Belshazzar, the prince of Babylon, was brazen enough to use the holy vessels for his debauchery (Rashi). In Daniel 5, in the midst of his revelry an eerie sight of a man’s hand wrote an undecipherable message on the wall of his banquet chamber.
The message foretold the loss of Belshazzar’s kingdom and his own eventual doom. ‘The king’s appearance changed, and his thoughts became confused and the joints of his loins were loosened and his knees were knocking one against another” (Daniel 5:1) (Rashi).
Verse 6; You put to shame the plans of the poor, because YHWH is his refuge.
You mock the plans of Israel who are poor and afflicted (Rashi).
Wicked nations scoff at Israel’s reliance on Elohim’s help because they deny YHWH’s existence. Since they have not yet been punished, they taunt and shame Israel for this and ask, ‘Where is Your Elohim?’ (Radak).
Verse 7; “O, that out of Zion would come Israel’s salvations! When YHWH returns the captivity of His nations, Jacob will exult, Israel will rejoice.”
Mount Zion is the capital of the Israelite kingdom and it is there that YHWH’s glory dwells. David, therefore, wishes this location to be the source of Elohim’s salvation (Radak).